By GWEN MURANAKA
Twenty-six point one miles. That’s about the distance from Little Tokyo to Disneyland and it’s what thousands will be running for the 30th Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday.
For the past few years, Little Tokyo has been one of the neighborhoods in the path of the marathon and this year is no exception. It’s central downtown location means that big races like the marathon or Ciclavia will often include Little Tokyo in their route. It also is a great way to incorporate Japanese American culture into what are citywide events. This year JANM will be providing entertainment and the drummers of the Hongo Taiko School from Higashi Honganji will be encouraging runners at Mile 4 near Disney Hall.
If you’re in Little Tokyo on Sunday morning, then you’ll have a great view of the L.A. Marathon, which will run down First and Second streets before heading westward toward Santa Monica. The road closures will also add to the traffic congestion that seems to be the new norm in downtown.
The Samurai 5K, once sponsored by JAO, had one of the best road race courses in downtown. Like the L.A. Marathon, the Samurai climbed up First Street past Disney Hall before returning to J-Town. It’s a shame I only got a chance to run it once.
Running is something that centers me and keeps the stress down, but marathons may be in my past. I was first inspired to run the L.A. Marathon when I covered it for The Rafu. At that time, the race started up on Grand Avenue, and headed down towards J-Town. It was so inspiring talking with some of the runners at the start line that I thought, why not?
Getting to the starting line is the culmination of many months of training, with a lot of sweat, pain and long hours pounding the streets. These days I’m too busy on the weekends to put in the miles that are necessary to run 26.2 and honestly I think I’ve just gotten lazy.
West Covina Mayor Pro Tem James Toma certainly isn’t lazy. He will be running his first marathon as part of a group that is raising money for the Asian American Drug Abuse Program (AADAP), an organization that provides help to Asian Pacific Islanders with substance abuse problems.
Besides his duties for West Covina, James is the father of two and a supervising deputy attorney general. I asked him how his training was going and he said, “My training has gone really well. I’m done with everything that will help me make it through 26.2. Now it’s a matter of keeping loose and not getting hurt. The toughest part of training was the long runs. My longest run ever prior to this training was 15 miles. My goal was to do three runs of 20 miles or more before the marathon. I’ve now run a 19, 20, and 22-miler. So got that part done. It’s been a great feeling of accomplishment and gives me confidence going into the marathon.”
I don’t know how you can juggle career, family, managing a city and running the miles necessary in training to race in the marathon. He explained: “I knew that running more than three or four times a week was unrealistic given my schedule. So ideally I’d run 40-50 miles a week, but I’m going to make do with 25-30 miles.”
Their toughest challenge may be the heat wave that will keep the temperature uncomfortably warm. Endurance in such harsh conditions will be the true test of their mettle.
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If there is one group of runners this Sunday who should be truly celebrated, it’s the legacy runners who have run in every marathon since the first race in 1986. It’s hard to fathom the grit that is required to be a part of this elite group.
I checked and there are quite a few JAs who are legacies, according to the L.A. Marathon website. Among them is Francis Akahoshi, a Vietnam veteran and graduate of L.A. High, who will be running his 30th L.A. Marathon.
Akahoshi works for the DWP at the Harbor Generating Station in Wilmington and is now resting up and hydrating with coconut water in preparation for the race. He said: “I just started the first one and kept going. After a while I figured when I can’t finish, it will be time to retire from work.”
Other JA legacies include Rich Endo, Lloyd Fukuda, Masako Higuchi, Stanley Ito, Mikio Nagato and Tak Nikaido. It’s an incredible achievement worthy of a kampai toast, and perhaps a giant box of Salon Pas for all the aches and pain the day after.
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I’m not sure if Warren Furutani is a runner. He has certainly trimmed down to fighting shape these past years, and he is in the running again, this time for the State Senate.
It was Furutani himself who lamented the lack of Japanese Americans in the California legislature in his “Warren Report” column last November. There is not a single JA in either the Assembly or the Senate, nor the city council in Torrance — as close to a JA town as there could be — for that matter.
Representation matters. It’s hard to imagine that the state universities and colleges would have awarded honorary diplomas to the Nisei students of World War II, if Furutani hadn’t been there to sponsor the legislation.
When Karen Korematsu spoke about her father’s experiences during Word War II in January, there was no legislator who could stand up and speak to that pain of incarceration because it is part of their own community’s history.
“Overall on the state level, the JA political ‘pipeline’ is empty,” Furutani said with dismay.
Not quite. Warren Furutani is back in the race.
Gwen Muranaka, English editor-in-chief of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.